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J Comp Psychol. 1990 Mar;104(1):3-10.

Experimental determination of a unit of song production in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata).

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Rockefeller University Field Research Center, Millbrook, New York 12545.


Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) song is composed of syllables delivered in a set order. Little is known about the program that controls this temporal delivery. A decision to sing or not to sing may or may not affect the entire song. Song, once commenced, may continue or may halt. If song is halted, stops may occur only at certain points. Seven zebra finches were presented with short bursts of strobe light while engaged in song. The variables of interest were whether the birds stopped and where they stopped. The results can be summarized as follows: Ongoing zebra finch song can be interrupted, interruptions occur at discrete locations in song, and the locations almost always fall between song syllables. These results reveal a functional representation of song production and place constraints on possible neural mechanisms that underlie song production in zebra finches and probably other oscine species. The results also raise hypotheses about the elements of song perception and memory.

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